18 Dec 2010

Summer reading under the sea

Polar Eyes has been recommended alongside some classic books in the WA Premiers Summer Reading Challenge in the Under the Sea category.

The reef by David Caddy       
Shark bait by Justin D’Ath    
The water babies by Charles Kingsley
Shipwreck at madman’s corner by Mike Lefroy
Chelonia green, champion of turtles by Christobel Mattingley           
Polar eyes: a journey to Antarctica by Tanya Patrick!
Pinquo by Colin Thiele          
20 000 leagues under the sea by Jules Verne
Blueback by Tim Winton       
Swiss family Robinson by Jonathan Wyss

Check out the other categories here.

20 Aug 2010

Runner up!

Polar Eyes: A Journey to Antarctica received was runner up (Honour Book) in this years CBCA Children's book of the Year Awards.

This lovely little sticker has led to the first edition becoming out. Second edition available soon here.

30 Mar 2010

Polar Eyes shortlisted for CBCA Book of the Year!

Polar Eyes has been shortlisted Polar Eyes has been shortlisted for The Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year (Eve Pownall Award for Information Books) 2010!

More about the CBCA awards and the other books on the shortlist here. The Book of the Year and Honour books are announced 20 August.

22 May 2009

Antarctic Art Exhibition: Parliment House

From left Alison Lester, Peter Garrett, Tanya Patrick, Coral Tulloch. Nicholas Hutcheson hiding back left!

I'm honoured to be included in an exhibition at Parliment House (27 May - June 5) which also features the work of award winning author and illustrator Alison Lester.

Alison traveled to Antarctica in 2005, blogging an account of her journey. She encouraged children to send drawings to her in response to what she was posting, and when she returned home she was inundated with them. Many were pictures of the Aurora Australis which she has cleverly incorporated to create All the tracks of the Aurora Australis (above).

Peter Garrett opened the exhibition, and as you can see, he is still knows how to captivate an audience!My first child, due in September, is the reason for the roundness of my belly...

Update: Prints from the exhibition are available to buy here. All proceeds go to the Royal Melbourne Children's Hospital.

[Photos] Owen Cox

25 Jan 2007

Stay tuned!

Where do penguins go to dance? What is it like in Antarctica? How do animals and humans survive down south? I’m home now, but make sure you stay tuned to the Polar Eyes website. It will be updated throughout 2007/2008 – International Polar Year.

6 Jan 2007

Farewell Antarctica

Yesterday, it took all day to load the cargo backon board and get ready for sea. Finally, with a blast on the horn at 8:30 pm we were off. In a sudden snow shower, the remaining Casey expeditioners waved goodbye on a hilltop as a orange flare was let off at the station, signalling our departure.

Now (warm inside my bunk on the Aurora) my face still burns as I think about my time in Antarctica. In the early hours of my last morning on Antarctic soil, I walked outside into the bright light and gazed down at the harbour beyond the sparkling white ground that lay under a technicolour sky of yellow, blue and mauve. I remember thinking what a fantasy land this is. The Aurora, anchored in the harbour and waiting to take me home, was also part of this view. It was a reminder that like most humans, I would not be here for long. This is not a place where you live.

At 5.00 am this morning, I jumped out of my bunk to peer from my cabin window. Some people said that we could be in the ice for the next couple of days. Others were confident that we would hit the open ocean by morning… and we did. Apart from occasional icebergs, there was no ice to be seen. Edward Wilson, one of the explorers on Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expedition in 1911, described the movement of swell in pack ice as constant and gentle — ‘like breathing in sleep’. I could not agree more. I will really miss this.

5 Jan 2007

Up, up and away - my last day at Casey

Twice a day, every day of the year, weather balloons are released simultaneously from
almost 900 locations worldwide — including Antarctica. This year, Justin Wood from the Bureau of Meteorology will be releasing the weather balloons at Casey Station. These are no ordinary balloons. They are huge (they weigh 50 times more than a party balloon), travel to heights of up to 25 km above ground, and are filled with highly explosive hydrogen gas! So, to help Justin launch one, I wore a coat made from flameretardant cotton, boots designed to stop static electricity from building up in the dry air, cotton gloves, and goggles to protect my eyes.

After the changeover ceremony we departed the station by barge for the trip to the ship, where the galley staff provided a late dinner. I was most grateful. For two weeks I had experienced quite mild weather by Antarctic standards. As if to prove a point, yesterday afternoon the wind rose, and underdressed, I became quite cold. In fact, I was so cold that I had to wear my down jacket for the next 2 hours inside the ship where it is a comfortable 19 degrees. I had felt what it is like to drop your core temperature by degree or so, on the coldest continent on Earth, and I had learnt a lesson. Always be prepared in Antarctica, even if you are just waiting for a barge for an hour.

Interview: Justin Wood - Floating forecaster

At Casey, the weather balloons are released at 7:15 am and 7:15 pm, which corresponds with the same time that everyone else in the world releases theirs. The weather balloon contains a GPS unit that tells us where the balloon is, and a radio transmitter that sends the information back to the receiver on the roof of our observations building. As the balloons go up through the atmosphere, they transmit information — including temperature, pressure, wind speed and wind direction — to the ground station every two seconds until they explode! Computer forecast models that rely on weather balloon data are used by forecasters worldwide, from the Bureau of Meteorology to your local TV weather presenter! Without this information, accurate forecasts beyond a few hours would be almost impossible. Since we’ve been at Casey, we’ve had really good weather for releasing balloons — light winds and nothing too serious going on. In winter, blizzard conditions will occur fairly often, which means we’ll be releasing balloons into 120 km/h winds and falling snow!

4 Jan 2007

A different life on ice

Back in the boat, as we slowed down to navigate our way through the ice again, I ran my hand through the icy water. We were following a channel between two islands en route to an inlet where
Marie was planning snorkel with her underwater camera. There would be no snorkelling there today though – a leopard seal was lounging about nearby.

Early Antarctic explorers describe harrowing encounters with leopard seals. However,although some attacks have been documented, most of the stories may just be folklore. That being said, my Australian Antarctic Division Field Manual does warn me not to loiter near the edge of the sea ice near penguin rookeries… especially if I’m wearing a dinner jacket!

Leopard seals may look clumsy and ungraceful on land, but in the water they are excellent swimmers and formidable hunters. They use their powerful jaws and long teeth to prey on a variety of species, including krill, squid, fish and sometimes even other seals.

By analysing leopard seals’ poo, scientists have worked out that Adelie penguins are their favourite food. So, it was hilarious to watch a group of Adelies taunt this leopard seal on land!
Adélie penguins were everywhere - swimming alongside us, leaping gracefully like dolphins in arches from the water and diving off the ice floes as we approached.

Vonna, Marie and I take a break inside the melon hut on Peterson's Island.

Antarctic elephants

A juvenile male elephant seal.
Browning Peninsula
Today, we explored the inlets and islands around the Browning Peninsula — about a one-hour trip in a small boat from Casey Station. Our first stop was an island where some juvenile southern elephant seals had been spotted earlier in the week. We nosed the boat into an ice crack next to some rocks, and I had to jump out onto a piece of sea ice that probably won’t be there next week!

Southern elephant seals are the largest seals and one of the largest mammals on Earth — after some whale species and elephants. One adult male can weigh more than four tonnes… that’s about 80 of you! These heavyweights of the seal family can barely move on land, but once they are in the water, they are swift and powerful swimmers. The ones I saw looked pretty big to me, but they were just babies — about a year old. I had heard that elephant seals can scare off rivals by producing a deafening roar from their throat — made louder by their trunk-like nose, which acts like a sound box. But there was none of that today. All we could hear, and smell, was lots of farting and burping!

3 Jan 2007

Ice core time machine

Like the summer Antarctic sun, polar researchers are up at all hours. It was 5:00 am when I interviewed Jimmy Twin before he set off in search of 100 000 year-old glacial ice.

To people like Jimmy, Antarctica must be like a giant, freezing time machine.

2 Jan 2007

Day 2 Wilkes Station: Project igloo

The term igloo, or iglu, is derived from the Eskimo word 'igdlu' meaning ‘house’.
 How often do you get the chance to build an igloo in Antarctica?

After really enjoying my night out in a bivvy bag at Watt’s hut, I was keen to try out another form of shelter. The indigenous people of the Arctic once lived in igloos made of snow, and I was eager to experience both the process of building and staying in one for myself. Marie thought the process of building an igloo would make a great SCOPE episode. I thought it would be fun to have an igloo activity in the May/JuneScientriffic so I set up my camera and tripod to record our progress.
An experienced Inuit can build a snow igloo in between one and two hours. Ours took five hours, with some interruptions...

1 Jan 2007

Whitney Point

Last night I headed back to the Aurora for a pirate-themed New Year's Eve party. Limited resources encouraged some interesting interpretations of the theme, ranging from a parrot constructed out of a laundry detergent container to limited edition spray painted pirate t-shirts that some of the crew were sporting.

After welcoming 2007 between cries of ‘Arrrrr’ and 'Cheers' I was up early and on the first barge back to Casey. The day was to about to become a busy one, with station refuelling scheduled to begin today. I was heading out of town to visit a large penguin colony at Whitney Point.

We could hear them before we could see them. When we arrived, after trekking around the coastline from Casey to Whitney Point — the site of a large Adelie penguin rookery — I was a bit overwhelmed. I was surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of penguins, many of them with newborn chicks delicately tucked underneath their bellies. All Antarctic animals are protected under the Antarctic Treaty and Environment Protection Act, so we needed special permits to visit this rookery. I had been warned not to approach them too closely (5 m for non-breeding penguins and 30 m for breeding pairs), but it quickly became apparent that a few of these Adelies hadn’t read the latest Australian Antarctic Division Field Manual! Some (I suspect they were juveniles) ran fearlessly towards me, almost as if they were carrying out an inspection. Others were quite dismissive of my presence, and a few — perhaps the uncles andaunties of the newborns — adopted a protective stance around the chicks.

You can spot an Adelie by its black and white ‘dinner jacket’. About 2.5 million pairs of Adelie penguins are thought to live in Antarctica — and they haven’t all been counted yet! Adelie penguins don’t march 90 km inland like their ‘movie star’ emperor penguin relatives.

But, that doesn’t mean they have it easy when it comes to breeding. Instead of heading inland to lay their eggs, Adelies build their nests on land close to the seashore, using pebbles that they collect from the rocky slopes around them.

When I visited this rookery they were keeping a close eye on the circling skuas above that prey on the eggs and young of Adelie penguins over the summer. Skuas can often be found lurking on the edges of penguin colonies, on the look-out for a potential meal. They are superbly adapted to catching fish, but also prey upon bird eggs and chicks. These beautiful birds are strong flyers, and they will fiercely defend their nesting area from all comers, including humans!

Our accommodation tonight is luxurious… by Antarctic standards! The ‘Wilkes Hilton’ hut is about 1 km from Wilkes Station, which was established by the United States in 1957. But, because they built it in an area heavily affected by snow, it got buried every winter! In 1959, the Americans handed ‘operational command’ of the station to Australia and walked out, leaving everything as it was. Today, most of it remains.

Cup of tea time.

PS. Apsley Cherry-Garrard on penguins

They are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children, or like old men, full of their own importance and late for dinner, in their black tail-coats and white shirt-fronts—and rather portly withal.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard